Ten questions with ‘Gray Lady Down’ author William McGowan

William McGowan is the author of “Gray Lady Down: What the Decline and Fall of the New York Times Means For America.”

Formerly editor of the Washington Monthly, McGowan is a media fellow at Social Philosophy and Policy Center. His work has been published in the Washington Post, the New York Times Magazine, the New Republic, and the National Review, among other places. His last book, “Coloring the News: How Political Correctness Has Corrupted American Journalism,” won the National Press Club Award.

McGowan recently agreed to answer 10 questions from The Daily Caller about his new book:

1.  Why did you decide to write the book?

Journalism is one of America’s more important democratic institutions. For better or worse, the Times is still central to our policy debates, our national conversation and whatever common culture we have left. It once represented the gold standard of American journalism. So I was curious what had happened, how bad the tarnish was and what policies and personalities were most responsible.

2.  What has the fall of the New York Times meant for America, if anything?

The Times is the Harvard of news. It is at the top of the journalistic food chain and what it says is news sets the agenda for much of the rest of the press. That might be changing somewhat, but it’s still important. The problem is that the Times has seen a lessening in its commitment to agnostic, professionally detached and neutral reporting in favor of advancing its political values in a way very correctly characterized, in many cases, as “cheerleading.” Yet this kind of p.c. boosterism doesn’t always work, as the many unintended consequences of the Times reporting and commentary have shown. In fact, it often generates a backlash. Most recently, the paper’s antagonism and mischaracterizations of the Tea Party movement contributed to the midterm “shellacking” of the Democratic Party. If it can be said, as I did in a piece for Real Clear Politics, that the Obama administration outsourced  health-care reform to an out-of-touch Congress, it could also be said that it outsourced its broader public relations effort to the Times, as well as MSNBC and Comedy Central — the Don Drapers of the Democratic Party, if you will.

3.  Is there an individual or a group of individuals who deserve the lion’s share of the blame for the decline of the New York Times?

I think the current publisher, Arthur Sulzberger Jr., who has been in control now for almost 20 years bears the most responsibility. Granted, in the last few years, he and other news executives, at the Times and in the news industry at large, have been dealt a bad hand with loss of revenues from the competition of the Internet. But Sulzberger has played that hand quite badly, allowing ideology to subtract from the paper’s credibility and gravitas. And unfortunately, the rot at the top is not going away short of a change of leadership. Yes, the Times has made efforts at reform, especially since the Blair scandal and other institutional embarrassments. But like a recovering addict who pledges sobriety, they’ve fallen off the wagon with too much regularity and its reform initiatives have had only spotty success.

  • recovered dem

    Myself and many others quit reading the NYT some time ago as it quit reporting the news. Instead it and others like it, such as the Boston Globe and Washington Post are merely tools for the left.

  • riseabove

    “Unfortunately, I have been in the marketing business for 30 plus years – sorry, but advertisers…at least those other than the Gold Hawkers and “Is Obama a Patriot” types shown on right wing sites, look for the MOST VALUABLE AUDIENCE.” -Craigiri

    Yes, unfortunate for us since we’re the ones who have to endure those annoying advertisements.

    Marketing has always been about exageration and deception anyway so your career choice doesn’t surprise me. Good thing we have Consumer Protection and Truth in Advertising Laws or people in that particular field would know no bounderies.

    They’re not happy with simply offering a short blurb about a product or service and letting the consumer decide. No, they have to delve into often shady, mostly unethical and sometimes illegal areas such as subliminal advertising, psychic manipulation, mind-reading, mind control, airplane banners over resort areas and even wanting to put giant billboards on the moon. Not to mention paying people to tattoo slogans and logos on their asses, faces and shaved heads.

    Such a respectable and admirable vocation you’re involved with. Why, I would trust anything you say with my life! I mean, if you told me the New York Times and the Huffington Post was superior to all other news sources, I would just be in awe of your experience and wisdom and I’d be filled with gratitude that you’re saying it because you’re only looking out for my best interests!

  • joinamerica

    I believe that Sulzberger Jr. is not overly bright. (I base my opinion on the unfortunate commencement speech that he gave in 2006 at a college in New York. It was not the message of the speech, the theme was the left’s typical apology for America. It was the sheer vapidity. The gentleman has the intellectual perspicacity of a teaspoon, as Hermione might put it.)

    After reading the aforementioned speech, I came to believe that Bill Keller and Jill Abramson,who are far more clever, have been steering Pinch and the NYT to ruin. Typical leftists, so wrong about so much, so often.

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  • lonecracker

    When William characterized NYT “as the Harvard of news”, that said it all.
    Harvard is no longer at the top of the education food chain, IMO. It, like the NYT, has become so far left that neither conforms to the old fashioned educational or journalistic standards that made them great. Neither offers what this country needs and that is how to think, not what to think. Both are way to PC.

  • flataffect

    “The Harvard of News” pretty much says it all: an arrogant, overweening center of intellectual pride.

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  • Sonny119

    The far left Liberal Establishment in the Media, has all but destroyed, the very meaning, and core, of what used to be called, “Journalistic Integrity and Standards of Professionalism”, or the Press..
    There is no more Journalistic Integrity and Standards of Professionalism, period. Just the radical far left Liberal Lies, distortion, and or otherwise known as, Propaganda.. They No longer care about reporting the news, objectively, unbiased, unprejudiced, and so on.. They are no longer o the sidelines, as the Free Press is supposed to protect and defend, the 1st Amendment of the Bill of Rights, to the US Constitution, Freedom of the Press and Free Speech, but rather are now encamped with the radical Liberal Socialist Marxist Obamacrats, with their own radical far leftwing Liberal Socialist Marxist Agenda..
    They are not only a Fraud to the American People, but is also a danger to the Freedoms, Rights, and Liberties, and the U.S. Constitution, that they supposed to be upholding and defending.. That’s a laugh now.. but it’s very sad, as this is a corner stone of American Freedom. Liberty, and Democracy.!!
    Benjamin Franklin and Horace Greely, must be turning in his grave.!!